A Columbus man who shot and killed Mississippi State University student Joseph Tillman in 2016 pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Tuesday and was sentenced to life in prison.

Joseph Tillman


Jaylen Barker, 22, stood before a judge in Lowndes County and confessed to the murder. He could have faced the death penalty if the case had gone to trial.

Tillman, the son of Collier and Bea Tillman of Schlater, was a 21-year-old senior marketing major  at MSU when, in the early hours of Nov. 6, 2016, he was approached on the street in the Cotton District of Starkville by Barker and two others. They asked for change for a $100 bill, according to authorities, and when Tillman tried to help them, two of the men grabbed his wallet and ran. He at first chased them and then returned to Barker and was shot dead.

The victim’s parents attended a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Lowndes County called by District Attorney Scott Colom.

“We lost a lot when we lost Joseph,” Collier Tillman said. “He was full of life and love and had a lot more to give. We and many others will always feel that loss but can rest in the assurance that justice has been served. I want to thank all of those who have prayed for us and supported us through this great tragedy.”

Colom said the guilty plea and life sentence had resolved all questions surrounding the case.

“Mr. Barker got in front of the court, and the judge asked very clearly, ‘Did you kill Joseph Tillman?’ (and Barker said), ‘Yes, I did.’ He was under oath when he said that. There’s no longer any mystery as to who killed Joseph Tillman.”

Later, Collier Tillman told the Commonwealth, “We are in agreement with the whole thing. He won’t be able to be released until after he’s 65 years old. We feel like justice has been served in this case.

“We’re pleased that there won’t be a trial and we won’t have to go through that. And we’re pleased that there won’t be an appeal.”

The Leflore County farmer said a lot of people talk about closure in a case such as this, but “I don’t know what that means.”

Colom said he called the news conference in part to assure parents who send their children to attend MSU that “Mississippi State and Starkville are safe places” and that the university does everything in its power to keep its students safe from harm.

Colom said the cases against Syboris Pippins, charged with capital murder, and Brandon Sherrod, charged with accessory after the fact, are still pending, but he hoped Barker’s guilty plea would help resolve them.

Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or gmaliska@gwcommonwealth.com.

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